Northern socio-political groups were on Friday divided over President Muhammadu Buhari’s appointments, which have largely been criticised in the south as it has thus far favoured individuals from the northern part of the country.
Buhari had on Thursday approved the appointments of six persons including Babachir David Lawal from Adamawa State as the Secretary to the Government of the Federation and Mr. Abba Kyari from Borno State as his Chief of Staff.
The list takes the appointments made by the President so far to 30, with only seven of them coming from the southern part of the country and the rest from the North.
Socio-cultural groups and people from the southern region of the country have been united in their outrage over the appointments, but northerners have been split over the issue.
For instance, while the Chairman of the Northern Elders Council, Alhaji Tanko Yakassai, was critical of the President’s appointments, the convener of the Coalition of Northern Politicians, Academics, Professionals and Businessmen, Junaid Mohammed, said he was not in favour of zoning in the giving of political appointments.
Yakassai, in a telephone interview with one of our correspondents on Friday, said the President’s appointments so far showed that he was favouring his section of the country, where he got the most number of votes.
Yakassai said, “If you look at the voting pattern, zone by zone, you will see that Buhari is compensating the zones that favoured him. It depends on the angle from which you look at it. If you are a patriotic Nigerian, you will see it from the patriotic angle, if you’re a parochial Nigerian, you will see it as right.
“We (NEC) are for Nigeria because if you read the oath of office that Buhari subscribed to as President, he said he would do justice to all manners of people without fear or favour. You just judge for yourself whether he has adhered to the content of that oath of office.”
The former Special Assistant to former President Shehu Shagari also dismissed insinuations that Buhari was more concerned about appointing competent persons into offices than making appointments based on sentiments.
He said, “In Nigeria today, we have competent people all over the country, no doubt about it. It is a matter of choice; you can get them from all over the country. We have people with university education and working experience all over the country. So, we are not in dire need of competent people because they are everywhere.”
Mohammed, however, said giving key political appointments to some certain sections of the country could endanger the unity of the country.
The second Republic lawmaker also said that northerners had previously been marginalised in the country by public office holders of Igbo origin, while denying the existence of a northern agenda being allegedly pursued by Buhari.
He said, “I’m not and I’ve never been a believer in zoning or rotation in giving key political appointments. I also believe that it is not in the national interest to zero in certain key appointments to certain sections of the country because it allows for further division of the country.
“Thirdly, I believe that if there had existed a so-called northern agenda, I would know about it because I’m smart. I don’t believe that any Nigerian whether Buhari, Olusegun Obasanjo (former President) or anybody could hoodwink 170 million people. And if that agenda existed, certainly, Nigerians would know and knowing Nigerians for who they are, they would kick against it.
“So the talk of a northern agenda or a Buhari’s agenda which is pro-north is utter nonsense. If there is a perceived lopsidedness in any appointments, the political situation must be looked at closely to ensure that justice is done.
“But in this, you also don’t look at immediate appointments; you look at previous appointments made over the last 16 years where a particular section of the country was deliberately marginalised.
“There was a policy of disenfranchising the north, marginalising the north and especially among Ibo political appointees, there has been a deliberate attempt to go out of their way to offend, disgrace and undermine northern political interest. When some of us were talking about this, I don’t remember a single Igbo voice supporting us, and most people in the south did not say anything.”
Mohammed, who said he did not know Buhari’s motive for making the appointments, however, added that he knew the President as someone who would place meritocracy above sentiments.
He said, “I don’t know what Buhari’s intentions are but one thing I know from his track record of over 45 years is that Buhari has never been caught making appointments on the basis of primordial sentiments.
“Those who were in the army would testify and those with who he worked as governor and in the Ministry of Petroleum Resources and the committees he headed as a serving officer. Nobody can come out to say Buhari showed primordial, religious or any other sentiments other than merit sentiments which are the most important on his mind.”
Meanwhile, the Chairman of the pan-Northern socio-political group, Arewa Consultative Forum, Alhaji Ibrahim Coomasie, called for patience over the appointments so far made by Buhari.
Coomasie described the condemnation that has trailed the appointments as uncalled for as “other appointments have yet to come.”
He also debunked insinuations that the President was executing a northern agenda, saying, “it is too early to judge the president. Let us wait and see other appointments.
“We still have other appointments like ministers, parastatals and boards that have yet to come. Let us wait before judging him. It is too early to do so.”
But on the contrary, the President of the group’s youth wing, Arewa Youths Consultative Forum, Yerima Shettima, who spoke to a newspaper (not Saturday PUNCH), described the situation as worrisome.
He said, “It is unfortunate the way the situation is, because one becomes worried. We must be seen to be nationalistic than being sectionalised.
“I am beginning to feel uncomfortable because the complaint is that the appointments are seen to be lopsided. I also do not think that is the intention of the government.”
In the south, however, Buhari’s appointments have been described as lopsided and sectionalised.
A leader of the Yoruba socio-cultural group, Afenifere, Chief Ayo Adebanjo, described Buhari’s appointments as worrisome, saying he was particularly worried that the latest appointments had not reflected the yearning of Nigerians.
Adebanjo said, “I am getting worried now; the whole thing is getting me worried. I want to see the clearer picture of what the President is planning to do. The step the President has taken in his latest appointments is worrisome.
“I want to see how the President will form his cabinet in September. What he has just done concerning the appointments of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation and others are a source of concern to me.”
Also, the National Publicity Secretary of Afenifere, Mr. Yinka Odumakin, said Buhari’s appointments would give him the identity of a sectional leader.
He said the President “may unwittingly be acting out the 97 per cent versus five per cent Freudian slip in Washington by concentrating most of his strategic appointments in his corner of the country.
“That may cast him in the mould of a sectional leader who is not seeing the whole country as his constituency. The “we” versus “them” which this pattern suggests can only further polarise a badly divided country which the map of the last election presented. What is required at the moment is leadership that is able to rise above the frays and bring all sections on board.”
Igbo socio- cultural organisation, Ohanaeze Youth Council, also lambasted the President, describing him as “an unrepentant tribalist and anti-Igbo.”
In a statement signed by the group’s National President, Mazi Okechukwu Isiguzoro, and Public Relations Officer, Obinna Adibe, Ohanaeze accused Buhari of deliberately excluding the South-East from all the political appointments he had made so far.
The statement read in part: “We stand to condemn this glaring hatred for Ndigbo by the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari. We recall that apart from several other appointments, Buhari’s government has also appointed Service Chiefs and in a similar manner, he sidelined the South-East zone.
“As if that was not enough, the long-awaited position of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation has come at last and this government deemed nobody from the South-East qualified enough to occupy that position, which was earlier zoned to Ndigbo.
“Where is the justice; where is the equity; where is the one Nigeria? How long will Ndigbo be pushed to the walls?
“Tribalism has never paid Nigeria and this period will not make any difference”.
In his reaction, National Chairman of the Labour Party, Alhaji Abdulkadir Abdulsalami, described the appointments as “unacceptable.”
He said, “The President didn’t take certain things into consideration. The appointments are not accepted to LP. If this is the All Progressives Congress’ concept of change, it is very unfortunate. The APC knows what to do. If at the end of the day, the party decides to toy with the likes of Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu (APC chieftain from the South-East), despite the commitment and sacrifice he has made for the party, it shows their chameleonic dynamics.”
A Lagos-based lawyer, Mr. Fred Agbaje, however, noted that lopsided appointments have become, “a common phenomenon” in the current administration, describing them as a “clear violation of the principle of federal character and the need to promote national unity and hegemony as enshrined in the preamble of the Constitution.”
A legal practitioner and Executive Director of Egalitarian Mission Africa, Mr. Kayode Ajulo, who also reacted to Buhari’s recent appointments, accused him of “treating the nation like an occupied territory.”
Ajulo in a statement obtained by Saturday PUNCH, described the development as “scary and ominous”, adding that it gives an “insight into the manner of things to be expected from this administration.”
The appointments were also greeted by angry reactions on social media, where many Nigerians were openly critical of the President.
For instance, many of the comments on the website of The PUNCH newspaper also condemned President Buhari’s appointments.
A reader identified on the website as Rotimi Lawanson, said, “He has handed the entire security structure, justice system and core appointments to the North and that is extremely dangerous.”
Another reader identified as Glogab said, “Common sense demands that he should consider the feelings of other regions of the country. He is the President of Nigeria and not (that of) Northern region. He should be experienced enough to learn from history.”
A former Minister of Aviation, Femi Fani-Kayode, who also posted on his Facebook page, listed all the appointments so far made by the President, adding that, “Nigerians wanted ‘change’ and now we have got it. No one should complain because this is what our people wanted. Those of us who warned the country that this would happen were insulted and lampooned. Now, we have to live with the consequences of our choice for the next four years. Welcome to the new Nigeria. Welcome to ‘Change’.”
Also, Ross Alaba-George described the appointments as an assassination of federal character, saying, “Buhari just showed Nigeria how resource control should be done. When you have power, take it; if you have resources take it…Federal Character Assassination.”
A commentator on Nairaland, identified simply as Erunz, queried if Northerners were more competent than people from other regions of the country, adding that, “No one should complain because when we wailed, they told us Buhari’s appointment is based on competence. So, the northerners are more competent. No one should cry, especially my people from the South-West.”
Also, Sincere9gerian said, “It is only people who have sold their souls to the devil that will overlook Buhari’s tribal bigotry and dictatorial tendencies. His actions are simply indefensible. At this point, the few Southerners that have been appointed so far should resign immediately.”
Meanwhile, Buhari, Chief of Staff and Federal Character have respectively been trending on Twitter since the announcement was made.
On Twitter, Ajebomarket.com chided the appointment of Kyari as the Chief of Staff to the President, saying, “Abba Kyari is the new Chief of Staff to Buhari. He’s just 77 years old, but forget his age. He’s more competent than others since he’s Hausa.”
Tamapeta tweeted, “It’s very undemocratic to do away with Federal Character in a bid to cover up these appointments. Federal Character is very important.”
Interestingly, some prominent Buhari’s supporters have also joined his critics to condemn his appointments.
A columnist, Farooq Kperogi, in a post on his Facebook page, questioned the advices the President has been receiving lately.
He said, “Who is advising President Buhari? The undisguised ‘Arewacentricity’ of his appointments is frankly assuming disturbing dimensions. He is carrying on as if other parts of the country don’t matter. Many non-northerners, who have as much stake in the country and in Buhari’s success as anybody else, are justifiably disillusioned.
“A president who ran for election on the mantra of “change” can’t continue the tradition of invidiously clannish appointments and expect to continue to enjoy national goodwill.”
Another of Buhari’s supporters, who is also a columnist, Bamidele Ademola-Olateju, agreed with Kperogi on her Facebook page, saying that people should stop accusing them of criticising because they were not appointed.
She said, “Sorry, I will be Buhari’s harshest critic when he steps out of line or assumes a narrow focus. We will prevent him from falling into the stereotypes that prevented him from winning prior to 2015.”